Lt. Michael Johnston explains the role of the Maine Information and Analysis Center during a tour of the offices in Augusta on July 30. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

A nine-person jury has begun deliberations in a former Maine State Police trooper’s federal whistleblower trial in Portland.

After five days of testimony, the panel will decide whether to believe George Loder’s claim that his bosses pulled him from a federal task force and then denied him another detective job because he spoke up against data-sharing practices he believed violated federal law.

His state police supervisors, meanwhile, have reiterated to jurors that Loder only brought forward those allegations after they informed him they would be transferring him to a new job at the agency’s intelligence unit that he clearly did not want. They later denied him a spot in the southern major crimes unit because of a credibility issue, not as retaliation, they said.

While the verdict hinges on Loder’s retaliation claim, it is the spying allegation at the heart of the trial that captured the public’s attention when he filed suit in May 2020. Civil liberties advocates have long criticized the Maine Information and Analysis Center and other so-called fusion centers across the country for surveilling the public, illegally or not. Maine Democratic lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to defund the unit in 2021.

The long-awaited trial has put a magnifying glass on a unit that is used to  fending off accusations of spying and secrecy. State police officials have testified that they aren’t breaking any laws by storing personally identifying information, which often comes into the unit as a tip or a request, because their internal record system isn’t considered a criminal intelligence database.

In closing arguments Friday, Assistant Attorney General Paul Suitter depicted both the substance of Loder’s allegations and his characterization of the state police in court as unreasonable, if not conspiratorial. Not a single witness who took the stand during the trial backed up Loder’s concerns, Suitter said.

“You will have to decide which witnesses came to court, looked you in the eye and gave reasonable testimony,” Suitter said. All but Loder did, he said.

“The plaintiff has tried to put the MIAC on trial,” Suitter concluded. “The question here is not whether you like or agree that the nation’s network of fusion centers, found in every state across the country, are good public policy. That’s a question for lawmakers to decide. The question at issue in this case is whether the plaintiff suffered retaliation as outlined by the Maine Whistleblower Retaliation Act.”

Loder’s attorney, Cynthia Dill, disagreed. Police aren’t allowed to retain information about people without a connection to a crime, she said. Her client’s bosses didn’t like it when he blew the whistle, and, now, they are trying to smear his credibility in defense of their actions.

“He blew the whistle. It was hard on the ears. If George Loder isn’t protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act, who is?” Dill said.

“We have a right to not have information about us, personally identifying information — names, addresses, telephone numbers … in a system maintained by the government, a secret database that it can search by name and pull up, ‘Oh, this is when you went to a protest? This is another time you went to a protest? Oh, you bought a gun? You were a counselor at a peace camp?” she said.

“That’s what this case is about at its core: about the privacy of Maine citizens.”

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Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.